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10: Christian Egnor and Atheist Dillahunty Now Take Questions…

For example, “ What is Mr. Egnor’s best evidence of any god that would make me believe?”

In the “Does God exist?” debate between theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty (September 17, 2021), the debaters get questions from the audience.

Readers may recall that the debate opened with Egnor explaining why, as former atheist, he became a theist. Then Dillahunty explained why, as a former theist, he became an atheist. Michael Egnor then made his opening argument, offering ten proofs for the existence of God. Matt Dillahunty responded in his own opening argument that the propositions were all unfalsifiable. When, in Section 4, it was Egnor’s turn to rebut Dillahunty, Dillahunty was not easily able to recall Aquinas’s First Way (the first logical argument for the existence of God). Then, turning to the origin of the universe, Egnor challenged Dillahunty on the fact, accepted in science, that our universe began in a singularity (where Einstein’s equations break down). He accused Dillahunty of using science as “a crutch” for his atheism. Then they discussed the Second Oldest Question (after “Why is there something rather than nothing?”) If there is a God, why is there evil?

And then, what is the true origin of our sense of morality? Besides, what if Dillahunty isn’t really an atheist anyway? Egnor has come to doubt that.

But for now, Egnor and Dillahunty take questions:

A partial transcript, notes, and links to all previous portions of the debate follow:

Arjuna: TP Seeker is asking for Michael: “Say, I have lived my whole life away from people and never heard of any God. What is Mr. Egnor’s best evidence of any god that would make me believe?” [01:38:00]

Michael Egnor: The very fact that you exist calls for the existence of someone who created you because you didn’t create yourself. The other thing that points to God’s existence is your sense of moral right and wrong in your life. The other thing that points to God’s existence is the regularity of nature around you. The fact that there’s consistency, patterns in inanimate behavior of objects, points to a physical lawgiver. [01:38:30]

Arjuna: Another question: “Why do you believe the universe always existed?” I’m not sure who that’s directed at. Maybe you can both… Maybe it’s for Matt.

Matt Dillahunty: If you go with Big Bang cosmology, which has an explanation for the expansion of the universe, we don’t have anything prior to the point in time. We can’t say, “Where did it come from?” And it may not have come from anywhere, and so there is no hypothesis that X is true until such time as it’s been shown to be false type of thing, whereas, it is your baseline. The universe exists. If it came into existence, that would need to be demonstrated, and if it did not, that would need to be demonstrated. [01:39:00]

But the default position is that the change has to be accounted for and not that we can account for change by appealing to something that we can’t prove. So my view, I’m not that concerned. If some day a cosmologist came up and said, “Hey, you’re wrong. The universe absolutely didn’t exist, and here’s how we can show that it didn’t, and how it came into existence, and what this change was.” Cool. But until such time we have an explanation, I’m fine with the notion that something, some cosmos, not our local presentation of the universe, which we know began, but some cosmos always existed.

Big Bang
Big Bang (artist’s conception)

If I’m wrong, okay, I’m wrong. I don’t see that it makes any difference right now. I think the arrogance of presuming that we have answers to all of these questions when we clearly don’t is one of the cornerstones of religious thinking. [01:40:00]

Arjuna: All right. A question for Michael Egnor. “You said justice and mercy are universal and so must exist, but absent a mind, justice and mercy don’t apply. So couldn’t justice and mercy just be human inventions?”

Michael Egnor: That’s a very good question, and it gets to the question of realism versus nominalism.

Are abstract concepts just things in our minds, or is there something that actually exists outside of us that is the instantiation of those abstract concepts?

The difficulty with nominalism — the idea that it’s just something in our minds — is manifold. One of the obvious ones is that we couldn’t talk about it with other people if it didn’t have some objective reality. If I just have something in my mind and you just have something in your mind, we have to be able to communicate in the real world about what we’re thinking of. [01:41:00]

So things — like justice and mercy — must have some actual existence somewhere in some form or we couldn’t even discuss them because my mind is private. Your mind is private. There has to be a connection. That was one of Plato’s arguments for the existence of a world of forms. These things must exist independently of us. [01:41:30]

Arjuna: Question for Michael: “Do you think that morality could be summed up as similar to what an atheist would commonly claim it to be being harm: health, right, wrong, difference being specifics, Bible?”

Michael Egnor: Well, to even talk about harm or health without talking about objective morality doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For example, why is health good? Why do we want health? I don’t think we understand how pervaded our lives are… [01:42:00]

Note: Realism vs. nominalism: “Realists postulate the existence of two kinds of entities, particulars, and universals. Particulars resemble each other because they share universals; for example, each particular dog has four legs, can bark, and has a tail … Nominalists offer a radical definition of reality: there are no universals, only particulars … Virtue exists only because we say it does: not because there is a universal abstraction of virtue. Apples only exist as a particular type of fruit because we as humans have categorized a group of particular fruits in a particular way. Maleness and femaleness, as well, exist only in human thought and language.” – Andrea Borghini at Thoughtco

A famous realist was Thomas Aquinas. A famous nominalist was William of Ockham (1287–1347).

Matt Dillahunty: It would be interesting to maybe make a list of the things that Mike has views on and I have views on because I think there would be a huge overlap. I don’t want to hurt innocent people either. As a matter of fact, I’m less interested in hurting innocent people, and I’m more in favor of individual freedoms than some of my theistic friends. [01:42:30]

Generally, I think I get along pretty well with Catholics on freedoms and stuff except for maybe where it comes to condom use. But I think one of the big problems here is assuming that because you can’t imagine people who don’t agree with you that it’s fair to then say everyone. We all feel this. We all do this. We don’t. There are people, unfortunately, who do want to harm others. [01:43:00]

Ethics Integrity Fairness Ideals Behavior Values Concept

There are people who, while they’re not necessarily absolute monsters bent on destroying the whole world or slaughtering people left and right, desperately want to take advantage of other people and don’t care about other people. I would think that, irrespective of views about a god or religion, it would be in our best interest to work together to make sure we build a society, to make sure that those people’s impact on society is minimized because somebody’s got to do God’s work while He’s busy not existing. [01:43:30]

Arjuna: All right. The next question is for Matt. “Why do you think what you don’t understand does not exist?”

Matt Dillahunty: Wow. That’s literally the opposite of what I stated in my opening. The fact that I don’t understand something doesn’t in any way point to whether or not it exists. But the fact… If I do not understand something, I cannot be convinced that it’s true because you have to comprehend something before you can say “Yes, I assent and I acknowledge it is true.” [01:44:00]

None of it is a choice. You become convinced and you cannot become convinced if you don’t have an understanding unless you become convinced of a proposition by appealing to things that you understand that actually aren’t arguments in favor of that, which is where we get the fallacies
and emotional appeals.

Arjuna: So does that mean it’s not that you believe God doesn’t exist, it’s just that you’re not convinced of His existence? [01:44:30]

Matt Dillahunty: Most of the time that’s exactly the position that I put forward and defend. I did it a little bit different today because I’ve done that a lot. I am not convinced that a god exists because I have not become convinced. I am, in fact, convinced that a god doesn’t exist for the Divine Hiddenness argument that I had presented, which by the way, went without rebuttal.

Note: Egnor addresses Dillahunty’s Divine Hiddenness argument here: The Divine Hiddenness argument against God’s existence = nonsense. God in Himself is immeasurably greater than we are, and He transcends all human knowledge. A God with whom we do not struggle — who is not in some substantial and painful way hidden to us — is not God but is a mere figment of our imagination.

Next: Is evil best understood as the absence of good?


The complete debate, with transcripts and notes:

Two chess knights facing away from each other
  1. Debate: Former atheist neurosurgeon vs. former Christian activist. At Theology Unleashed, each gets a chance to state his case and interrogate the other. In a lively debate at Theology Unleashed, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and broadcaster Matt Dillahunty clash over the existence of God.
  2. A neurosurgeon’s ten proofs for the existence of God. First, how did a medic, formerly an atheist, who cuts open people’s brains for a living, come to be sure there is irrefutable proof for God? In a lively debate at Theology Unleashed, Michael Egnor and Matt Dillahunty clash over “Does God exist?” Egnor starts off.
  3. Atheist Dillahunty spots fallacies in Christian Egnor’s views. “My position is that it’s unacceptable to believe something if the available evidence does not support it.” Dillahunty: We can’t conclusively disprove an unfalsifiable proposition. And that is what most “God” definitions, at least as far as I can tell, are.
  4. Egnor now tries to find out what Dillahunty actually knows… About philosophical arguments for the existence of God, as he begins a rebuttal. Atheist Dillahunty appears unable to recall the philosophical arguments for God’s existence, which poses a challenge for Egnor in rebutting him.
  5. Egnor, Dillahunty dispute the basic causes behind the universe. In a peppery exchange, Egnor argues that proofs of God’s existence follow the same logical structure as proofs in science. If the universe begins in a singularity (where Einstein’s equations break down), what lies behind it? Egnor challenges Dillahunty on that.
  6. Is Matt Dillahunty using science as a crutch for his atheism? That’s neurosurgeon Michael Egnor’s accusation in this third part of the debate, which features a continued discussion of singularities, where conventional “laws of nature” break down.
    If the “supernatural” means “outside of conventional nature,” Michael Egnor argues, science routinely accepts it, based on evidence.
  7. Dillahunty asks 2nd oldest question: If God exists, why evil? In the debate between Christian neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty, the question of raping a baby was bound to arise.
    Egnor argues that there is an objective moral law against such acts; Dillahunty argues, no, it is all just human judgment.
  8. Does morality really exist? If so, does it come from God? Matt Dillahunty now challenges Michael Egnor: There is no way to know whether a moral doctrine represents any reality apart from belief. Michael Egnor insists that a moral law exists independently of varying opinions. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, that has always been the traditional view worldwide.
  9. Michael Egnor explains why Matt Dillahunty is not an atheist. Not really, anyway, Egnor insists, because he keeps invoking a moral standard that can’t exist if materialist atheism is true. Egnor: I’ve encountered few people who demand as much fairness for themselves as atheists. They don’t live like atheists. They live like theists.
  10. Christian Egnor and atheist Dillahunty now take questions… For example, “ What is Mr. Egnor’s best evidence of any god that would make me believe?” Key questions turned on whether abstractions like “right” or wrong “wrong” represent realities. It’s the perennial realism vs. nominalism question again.
  11. Is evil in the world simply the absence of good? Christian Michael Egnor argues for that view. Then he and atheist Matt Dillahunty clash over whether a cause can be outside of time. Many traditional philosophers have held that evil is the absence of good in the same way that darkness is the absence of light. It has no independent existence.
  12. Egnor vs. Dillahunty: How can God be both just and merciful? After atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty explains his view of morality, an audience member asks neurosurgeon Michael Egnor to explain how a just God can show mercy. Under what circumstances, a debate watcher asks, would it not be contradictory to show both justice and mercy?
  13. Egnor vs. Dillahunty: Are singularities a part of science? Also, an audience member asks the debaters: Does atheism make better predictions than theism? Dillahunty denies that atheism is a single position; Egnor responds that that is a suspect claim because atheist positions are quite predictable.
  14. Debate: Is morality a mere emotion that we project on others? Theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty continue their conversation about basic issues at Theology Unleashed. Michael Egnor argues that God created the universe, imperfect in relation to himself, out of an excess of love — perhaps so that we all have some type of being.
  15. Debate: How can a cause and effect occur at the same time?? In the broken window analogy, the brick becomes a cause simultaneously with the shattered glass becoming an effect. In the wrap-up, Egnor restates that atheism is not really an argument, just ignorance, and Dillahunty restates that Egnor was attacking him personally.

You may also wish to read these pieces by Michael Egnor:

Science can and does point to God’s existence. Michael Egnor: Natural science is not at all methodologically naturalist — it routinely points to causes outside of nature. If we are to understand natural effects, we must be open to all kinds of causes, including causes that transcend nature.

The Divine Hiddenness argument against God’s existence = nonsense. God in Himself is immeasurably greater than we are, and He transcends all human knowledge. A God with whom we do not struggle — who is not in some substantial and painful way hidden to us — is not God but is a mere figment of our imagination.

Atheist Claims about logical fallacies often just mean: Shut Up! In the recent debate, Matt Dillahunty accuses theists of “the fallacy of the argument from personal incredulity” because we examine his claims and find them incredible. What atheists fear most is having to explain themselves, and the invocation of fictitious “fallacies” is one of their favorite ways to evade scrutiny.

Theists vs. atheists: Which group has the burden of proof? Because Dillahunty refuses to debate me again, I’ll address his claim that atheists have no burden of proof in the debate over God’s existence in this post. Both atheists and theists make positive statements about the nature of the universe. If atheists shun the ensuing burden of proof, it should count against them.

and

Atheist spokesman Matt Dillahunty refuses to debate me again Although he has said that he finds debates “incredibly valuable,” he is — despite much urging — making an exception in this case. Why? For millennia, theists have thought meticulously about God’s existence. New Atheists merely deny any need to make a case. That’s partly why I dumped atheism.


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10: Christian Egnor and Atheist Dillahunty Now Take Questions…